The Deity of Christ

John 1:1

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
July 2007

In our last class, we began looking at the person of Christ. We raised the question, Who is Jesus? Jesus asked his own disciples who they thought he was. Many people have different opinions and ideas. According to Scripture, Jesus is fully human and fully divine. Last week we looked at the humanity of Jesus, the ways in which he is just like us. Today, we will be looking at the deity of Jesus, the ways that he is totally unlike us.

The Bible teaches that Jesus is both God and Man. We cannot explain it fully. In fact, Paul calls it a mystery. We do not understand it completely but the Bible teaches both. God is immortal. He can’t die and yet the human Jesus could die. God cannot be tempted (James tells us) and yet Jesus was tempted by Satan.

God never changes, grows or develops but Luke tells us that the human Jesus did grow up. God never gets hungry or thirsty or sleepy or tired but Jesus as a man experienced all four. God is omniscient. He knows all things but there was at least one thing that Jesus said that he did not know (Mark 13:32).

We can’t explain all of these things. They are paradoxes. They are two things which seem to be contradictory but in fact are not. Donald Grey Barnhouse once gave a good example of this.  Normally the closer to a fire you get, the warmer you get but it is possible to get closer to a fire and get colder.  When you climb up on a mountain or go on an airplane, it gets colder, even though you are closer to the Sun. It is a paradox.


What we want to look at now is the evidence that Jesus Christ is God. The evidence is unmistakable and overwhelming. Many do not believe that Jesus is God and will try to use the Bible to prove it. Would you know how to answer them?

We want to look at the evidence in Scripture for the deity of Christ but we also want to answer objections that some cultists have to this doctrine. We cannot look at all of them but I would like to try to answer some of them. How do we know that Jesus is really God?

Jesus is directly called “God” in Scripture.

In some places Jesus is directly called God. It is a fact that θεός is used as a christological title of Jesus in the NT.  In fact, Jesus is not just called “God” one or two times. He is called “God” MANY times (cf. John 1:1, 18; 20:28; I John 5:20; Romans 9:5; Hebrews 1:8; Titus 2:13; Acts 20:28; II Peter 1:1). John calls Jesus God four times.  Paul calls Jesus God two times.  Peter calls Jesus God one time and the author of Hebrews calls Jesus God one time.

Perhaps one of the strongest modern objections to the deity of Christ come from the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Jehovah’s Witnesses argue in their New World Translation that John 1:1 should be translated “and the Word was a god.” This was the subject of my M.A. thesis at Western Kentucky University in 1987.

It is very common for Christians to routinely dismiss Jehovah’s Witnesses who give arguments in support of their translation because most of them are ignorant of Greek.  That is the wrong approach to take.  It commits a common logical fallacy (ad hominem).  It attacks the opponents, rather than their arguments.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are not the only ones to give such a translation “and the Word was a god” in John 1:1c.  Several others have given the translation as well.  The rendering is also found in several obscure 19th century Unitarian translations.  The translation is given in the 1800s by Thomas Belsham[1], John S. Thompson[2] and Benjamin Wilson[3] but the translation is very rare and is not found in any major translation of the Bible.  Does the translation have any merit from a grammatical point of view?

Arguments for “a god” the Translation

1. The word “God” in John 1:1 is used two different ways in Greek.

John 1:1 is made up of three clauses in Greek.  The noun θεός is used two times in John 1:1.  One time it is used of the Father and one time it is used of Jesus. It is used with the article and without the article in Greek.  When the word θεός is used of the Father, it is preceded by the Greek article (ό θεός). When it is used of Jesus, the article is absent (θεός).

2. The translation “the Word was a god” is grammatically possible.

There is no indefinite article (a/an) in Greek.  When a word in Greek has the article, it is definite.  When it does not have the article, it may be indefinite.  The word θεός in John 1:1c does not have the Greek article.  Therefore, they believe that it is indefinite.  There are many examples in John of nouns without the article in Greek (like θεός ) which are indefinite.

  • The word “prophet” in John 4:19 is anarthrous and is indefinite (“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet“).
  • The word “devil” in John 6:70 is anarthrous and is indefinite (“Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!”).
  • The word “murderer” in John 8:44 is anarthrous and is indefinite (“You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning”).
  • The nouns “thief” and “robber” in John 10:1 are anarthrous and are indefinite as well (“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber”)  The translation is grammatically possible.

[1] Thomas Belsham, et al., The New Testament, in an Improved Version: upon the Basis of Archbishop Newcome’s New Translation, with a Corrected Text, and Notes Critical and Explanatory (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1809)

[2] John S. Thompson, The Monotessaron; or The Gospel of Jesus Christ, According to the Four Evangelists; Harmonized and Chronologically and Arranged in a New Translation from the Greek Text of Griesbach (Baltimore: J. Robinson, 1809).

[3] Benjamin Wilson, The Emphatic Diaglott, Containing the Original Greek Text of what is commonly styled the New Testament (According to the Recension of Dr. J.J. Griesbach) with an Interlineary Word for Word English Translation (New York: Fowler & Wells Company, 1864).

3. The noun θεός is used of men who are not God, even in the Fourth Gospel.

The word θεός is used 83 times in the Fourth Gospel and in one place it is used of men (10:34-35), a quotation from Psalm 82. In Psalm 82, the Hebrew word for God (elohim) is used of men (82:6). Jesus even quotes that passage in John 10. Human judges in the OT were called “God”, not because they are divine beings but because of their position of authority.

The argument would be that just because Jesus is called θεός does not necessarily mean that he is God.  Since the word θεός is used of men, they would have no problem using the term with reference to Jesus and would not deny his godship. They argue Jesus is a god in the same sense that Jewish judges in Psalm 82 were gods.

Problems with the “a god” Translation

1) The translation violates the historical background of the Fourth Gospel.

The author of the Fourth Gospel was a monotheist, as were all the writers of the NT.  John was not a polytheist.   He was Jewish.  He believed in one God. As a good Jew, he knew that there are no gods. They simply don’t exist.

The Bible makes that perfectly clear.  Jehovah’s Witnesses base their religion on Isaiah 43:10 where the Lord talks about His witnesses.  Of course, in the context the witnesses are Jewish (43:1).  Furthermore, the rest of the verse says,

“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. (Isaiah 43:10)

This is abundantly clear from the Bible.  Every other God beside Jehovah is a false god.  God says in Isaiah 44:6, “I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.” He says in Isaiah 45:6, “there is none besides me. I am the Lord, and there is no other.”

The Jehovah’s Witness translation is based on the belief that there are two Gods – one called “the God” (the Supreme Being) and one called “a god” (some kind of inferior deity or secondary god).

As Bruce Metzger (1914-2007), the distinguished NT scholar from Princeton Theological Seminary, says, “It must be stated quite frankly that, if the Jehovah’s Witnesses take this translation seriously, they are polytheists.”[4]  It would be logically impossible for a monotheist to refer to anyone as “a god” in a literal sense, since a monotheist does not believe they exist in the first place.

[4] Bruce Metzger, “Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jesus Christ: A Biblical and Theological Appraisal,” Theology Today 10:1 (April 1953), p. 75

A Jehovah’s Witness once told me that there are “gods and lords” and based this on I Corinthians 8:5. This is the classic case of someone taking a verse out of its context. All you have to do is to read the verses right before and right after it to see this. Paul said in I Corinthians 8:5 that there are only SO-CALLED GODS, not real gods.

They are gods in name only. The very next verse says that he believed in ONE GOD (8:6). Furthermore, in 8:4 he says, “We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one.” Paul believed in one God and called him “THE ONLY GOD” in I Timothy 1:17.

John also believed in one and only one God (cf. 5:44; 17:3). Being who and what he was he couldn’t possibly have written, “the Word was a god.” Jehovah’s Witnesses often quote Acts 28:6 as a parallel passage.  In that passage, the inhabitants of Malta call the Apostle Paul “a god” but they were polytheists.

The translation makes perfect sense in Acts 28:6. They said, “he is a god”. Luke is not giving his own beliefs but those of idolatrous pagans and is accurately reporting what they said. However, the indefinite translation of θεός makes absolutely no sense in John 1:1.

[5] Acts 28:6 is also different grammatically from John 1:1.  In both cases θεός is used with the article in Greek but in John 1:1 θεός precedes the verb and in Acts 28:6 θεός follows the verb.  It is not syntactically parallel.

The only other time that θεός is used in the singular as a predicate noun and is found before the verb in the Fourth Gospel is John 8:54 (Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me“). No one, not even the Jehovah’s Witnesses translate θεός in that passage “a god.”

2) The translation is grammatically flawed.

Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that ό θεός means “God” and θεός means “a god”.  They argue that the absence of the article with θεός is theologically significant but that argument cannot be substantiated from the Greek New Testament.  The word θεός is used over 1300 times in the Greek New Testament.  It is well-attested that θεός and ό θεός are used interchangeably in the NT [6].

They are even used interchangeably in the Gospel of John.  The word θεός is used 83 times in the Fourth Gospel.  It occurs 63 times with the article and 20 times without the article in Greek.

The forms θεός and ό θεός are used interchangeably in John.[7]. Not only are θεός and ό θεός used interchangeable in the NT as a whole and in the Gospel of John more specifically, but they are also used interchangeably in John 1:1-18.

The word θεός is used nine times in first eighteen verses of John.  Seven times θεός is used of the Father (1:1 [2], 2, 6, 13, 13, 18) and two times θεός is used of the Son (1:1c; 18).  Both times when θεός is used of the Son the Greek article is not present.

However, about half of the time when θεός is used of the Father it is used without the Greek article (1:6, 12, 13, 18) and the other half of the time it is used with the Greek article (1:1 [2], 3).

The other times in this section when God the Father is referred to the word  θεός is found WITHOUT the definite article, the Jehovah’s Witnesses do not translate θεός “a god.”  If they followed this logic consistently, John 1:6 would read: “There was a man who was sent from a god.”

John 1:12 would read, “Those who believed in his name, he gave the right to be called children of a god.”  John 1:13 would read, “children who were born of a god” (1:13) and John 1:18 would read “no one has ever seen a god.”

In each one of those passages the word for ‘God’ does NOT have the definite article in Greek, yet not even the Jehovah’s Witnesses translate any of those verses in the same chapter indefinitely.  The only time that they translate θεός “a god” in this section is in John 1:1.

The one place you would expect to see a distinction between the two is in John 1:18. The Father and the Son are both mentioned in that passage. Both are called “God.” With this logic, you would expect the Father to be called ό θεός and the Son to be called just θεός.

But, when you look in the Greek text, you will find that both are simply called θεός. There is simply no evidence that John intended any clear distinction between the two terms. The two forms are used interchangeably even in the Prologue of the Gospel of John.

[6] Samuel G. Green, for example writes, “We find θεός (God) almost interchangeable with ό θεός  (Handbook to the Grammar of the Greek New Testament [Chicago: Fleming H. Revell, 1912], p. 186).

[7] For example, John says παρά θεοϋ in 1:6; 9:38 and παρά τοϋ θεοϋ in 5:44; 6:46; 8:40.  He says έκ τοϋ θεοϋ in 7:17; 8:42, 47 and έκ θεοϋ in 1:13.  John says υίόν θεοϋ in 19:7 and υίός του θεοϋ in 1:34, 49; 3:18; 5:25; 10:36; 11:4; 20:31 as J. Gwyn Griffiths points out ( “A Note on the Anarthrous Predicate in Hellenistic Greek,” Expository Times 62 [1950-51], p. 315).

3) The translation is ruled out by the immediate context of the passage.

The key to the correct interpretation of a passage is always the context. Does the context of John 1 and the Gospel of John as a whole support the idea that Jesus is a god or some lesser deity? No, the context of John 1 describes this individual as the creator of ALL things (1:3, 10). The very language of that passage calls to mind the first verse of the Bible.

“In the beginning, God (elohim) created the heavens and the earth.” The OT repeatedly says that the Lord (Jehovah) is the maker of heaven and earth (Isaiah 51:13, 16; Psalm 115:15; 121:2; 124:8; 134:3; 146:5-6). In John this individual is said to be one with the Father (10:30) and equal with the Father (5:18).

While it is true that on rare occasion, the word “God” is used of men, there is a big different between the use of θεός in John 10 and the use of θεός in John 1.  Three things are true when the term θεός is used of men.

  • When used of men, the word θεός is used in the plural, not the singular.  It is used in a collective or corporate sense.  No one individual judge is called “god”.  The word θεός is used in the singular in John 1.
  • When used of men, the word θεός is used metaphorically.  It is not used in a literal sense, given the fact that real gods do not exist.  It is metaphorical because those individuals are only “CALLED gods” (John 10:35).  They are not real gods.  They were gods in name only.
  • When used of men, the word θεός is used is sarcastically   John 10:34 quotes one line from Psalm 82:6.  Psalm 82 is one of the most sarcastic passages in the Bible.  Jehovah’s Witnesses usually do not quote the verse in context.  The verse right after Psalm 82:6 reads: “I SAID, “YOU ARE GODS”; you are all sons of the Most High.’ BUT YOU WILL DIE LIKE MEN; you will FALL LIKE EVERY OTHER RULER“.


Several things can be concluded from the use of θεός in John 1:1 worth noting.

1) The use of θεός in John 1 is in the singular, not the plural.

2) John 1 is NOT dealing with human judges in the context.

3) John 1 does NOT use θεός metaphorically or figuratively.

4) John 1 does NOT use the term θεός sarcastically.

5) Jesus is called θεός because He is the Creator of ALL things (1:3).

Jesus is NOT called God in John 1:1 because the Word of God came through him (cf. 10:35).  He is called God because THE WORLD came through him (cf. 1:3, 10).  Only God can create things out of nothing.  John 1 is a clear allusion to Genesis 1.  In fact both chapters in Greek begin with the same two words (Έν άρχή) or “in the beginning.”

Creation is an attribute of Deity.  It is true that sometimes the Bible uses the word “God” figuratively or metaphorically in the Bible. But this is very rare in the Scriptures and every time the Bible uses the term in this way the context makes it perfectly clear.

John 14:28 and the Deity of Christ

The Jehovah’s Witnesses would reply at this point would be, “If this is true, then why did Jesus say, ‘The Father is greater than I’? John 14:28 is a favorite verse of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It seems to fit their theology. They read this verse and believe it means that the Father is ontologically greater than the Son. If the Father is greater than the Son, He must be a greater kind of being than the Son. It sounds like a good argument on the surface but let’s take a deeper look.

The way you answer this argument is one word – CONTEXT.  Is this the view of Jesus which is found in the Gospel of John? Is this the kind of being that John describes in his Gospel? If it is, they are right. If it isn’t  then they have misread the verse. Let me give you several reasons from the Gospel of John why Jesus cannot be ontologically inferior to the Father.

One, He is called “God” (John 1:1, 18; 20:28; I John 5:20).

If the Father is greater ontologically than Jesus, then why are both the Father and the Son called God, not once but four times. Sometimes the article is used with God and sometimes it is not. John 20:28 has the definite article in Greek. It cannot be translated “a god.” God is a title, not a proper name but even in John Jesus has the same name as God. In John Jesus calls himself I AM (8:58; cf. 18:6), a clear allusion to the divine name in Exodus 3:14.

Second, He said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9).

Jesus said this in the very same chapter that he said, “The Father is greater than I.” If the Father was ontologically greater, then this statement would not be true. It would be like saying, “If you have seen me play basketball, you have seen Michael Jordan.” If they are the same kind of being with the same attributes, the statement would be true.

Three, He is said to be one with God (10:30).

Could The Father be ontologically greater than the Son if the Father and Son are one? If Jesus was simply saying that He and the Father were one in spirit and purpose, the Father could still be ontologically greater. That verse could mean that (even some evangelicals have taken that view) but there are so many other verses in John which put Jesus on the same par with God and that is how the Jews understood Jesus (cf. 10:33).

Some say that the Jews completely misunderstood Jesus but if that is the case, why didn’t he say so? Why didn’t he say, “Oh, no, you have it all wrong. I was not claiming to be God. I was merely claiming to be one in purpose with God.” Jesus does not deny the charge. He simply says that what he said was not blasphemy. Actually the Jews only got the charge half right. Jesus was not a “man who was making himself God” (10:33 NKJV) but God who made himself a man

In the context, the Father and the Son seem to be one, not just in purpose but in power. Both have the job of protecting and preserving the sheep. Jesus said that the ones who believe in Him “will never perish and no one will pluck them out of my hand” (10:28). He goes on to say in the next verse that we are in the Father’s hand as well.

It is a picture of absolute security. We are safe because we are in Christ’s hand the Father’s hand. We are not holding on to them. They are holding on to us. And then Jesus says, “I and the Father are one.” What Jesus is saying is that he and the Father are the same kind of being. They possess the same attributes.

Four, Jesus is said to be equal with God in the Fourth Gospel (5:10-18).

a) He is said to be equal in honor.

If the Father is a greater kind of being, He would be greater in honor but Jesus said that the Son was to receive the same honor as the Father and that by everyone (5:23). That is either sheer blasphemy for anyone else to say. It would be blasphemy for Paul or even the greatest angel of heaven to say, “Honor me as you honor the Father” but it was not blasphemy for Jesus to say this.

b) He is equal in possessions.

Jesus said that everything that the Father had was his (16:15; 17:10). This statement is unthinkable for any creature to say.

I want to look now at the indirect evidence for the deity of Christ. This evidence is powerful and all of it comes from the Book of Isaiah. Some have called Isaiah the Gospel of the Old Testament or the fifth gospel because it tells us so much about Jesus (birth, miracles, death, burial, resurrection, second coming, kingdom). In each one of these passages, the OT says something about God which the NT applies to Jesus. The logical conclusion is that Jesus is God, although the verse doesn’t say it directly.

So far we have seen that Jesus must be God because he is called God. Skeptics and cultists are not convinced and have all kinds of objections. But even if we did not have any of those verses in the Bible, even if Jesus was never directly called God in the Bible, there is still plenty of evidence in Scripture that he is God.

Evidence from Isaiah of the Deity of Christ

1) Isaiah 6 contains a vision of God. This individual is called “the Lord” (6:1) and “The Lord of Hosts” (6:5). In the NT we are told that the person that Isaiah saw was Jesus (John 12:37-41).

2) Isaiah 8 mentions a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall (8:13-15; 28:16). Who is this stone and rock? The Lord Almighty (8:13). The NT quotes this very same passage and says that the stone of stumbling is Jesus (Romans 9:30-33; I Peter 2:6-8).

3) Isaiah 40 mentions a voice is said to prepare people for God’s coming. It will prepare the way for the Lord and make a highway for God (40:3). All four of the Gospels in the NT say that the voice is John the Baptist. In fact, even John the Baptist claimed to be the voice that Isaiah spoke about (John 1:23). John the Baptist was the forerunner of Christ. His job was to prepare people for coming of the Messiah.

4) Isaiah 41 calls God a Redeemer (41:14). In the NT, Christ is our Redeemer (Galatians 3:13; I Corinthians 1:30; Revelation 5:9).

5) Isaiah 44 calls God “the first and the last” (44:6).  Those same words are applied to Jesus in Revelation 1:17.

6) Isaiah 45 says one day that “every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear” to God. The NT quotes this passage, applies it to Jesus and says that one day “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11).

7) Isaiah 42 says God is the Creator (42:5). The NT Jesus is the creator of all things.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses have an answer for this one. They say that God created the world but He did it through Jesus (the agent of creation). This sounds good but there are a few problems with this and both of the problems come from the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah 44 tells us very clearly who made “all things” (44:24).

According to this verse, it is the Lord who did it. In addition, the verse says that God created the world BY HIMSELF. It also says that he did it ALONE. Isaiah 45 also says that God created the universe (45:18). The chapter also says repeatedly that He is God and there is no other (45:5, 14, 19, 21, 22).

Not only did God create the universe by Himself, He did not use any other god to do it for Him.In Isaiah 43, God is said to be a Savior for Israel (43:3).  In fact, it says that God is the only savior and that apart from Him, there is no savior (43:11). Jesus’ very name means “savior.” An angel of the Lord told Mary while she was pregnant that the baby inside her would “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

In fact, he is called, not just the Savior of the Jews but the Savior of the world (John 4:42; I John 4:14). The NT says that, not only is Jesus the Savior, he is the only Savior. Acts 4:12 says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

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